Nicolas Beudon reports that last night there were cyberattacks against numerous French library websites, evidently by Islamist groups. They hacked into these sites using vulnerabilities in Drupal, WordPress, and ISS, as well as by cracking simple passwords. The messages they left on homepages objected to the identification of Islam with the terrorists, referring to it as brainwashing. Beudon refers to a more general article by Damien Bancal, on his site Zataz, which reports on attacks to a broad range of French government institutions’ websites. He writes, “Despite the hashtag #Contre_Charlie, the hackers are not supportive of the attacks that took place in Paris. However, their cyber warfare operation is in competition with Anonymous, who posted their intention to tackle the jihadists on the internet.”
The instructors for the Library Juice Academy Certificate in User Experience organized an Unconference on UX at the University of Arizona recently, as a follow-up to the first round of classes in the certificate program. On December 6th, they each gave presentations on their areas of expertise and participated in a panel discussion. The presentations were recorded, and they’re on Youtube and available for your viewing pleasure and learning. If these presentations are interesting to you, consider taking some of the classes.
An illuminating article in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week: “The ‘Undue Weight’ of Truth on Wikipedia,” by historian Timothy Messer-Kruse. It illustrates a problem with the protocol in place on Wikipedia that operate to attempt to ensure objectivity. This problem is one that academics who work on Wikipedia articles are likely to run into, because it tends to prevent new knowledge from making it into an article. Apologies if this article requires subscription access; most university libraries subscribe and should let you in from home using a proxy server if you are affiliated with the institution.
You will probably be hearing more about Weibo, a Chinese social networking site that combines aspects of Twitter and Facebook and presently has, at a minimum, 140 million users, which is nearly three times the user base of Twitter.
The interesting news at present is that the Chinese government, which shut down access to Twitter some time ago, has sent out mass messages on Weibo warning people that two recent posts were false. Here are accounts of the story from The Atlantic and The New York Times. My friend Anne Mostad-Jensen, a user of the site, sent me this screenshot of the government’s notice on the site (though if you can read Chinese, chances are you’ve already seen it).
We have just posted Ron Day’s introduction to Philippe Breton’s book, The Culture of the Internet and the Internet as Cult: Social Fears and Religious Fantasies to the Litwin Books website. We posted translator David Bade’s introduction to the author’s work here back in April.
I have come to realize what an important author on contemporary communication topics Philippe Breton is, not only in France but in other parts of the world. With this book we are doing the kind of thing that has often given publishers a sense of pride: being the first to bring an important thinker’s work into English translation. I am proud to be the publisher of this book for another reason as well: it has insights in it that I found useful for my own thinking, and reading it was a pleasure. Breton writes with a mix of intellectual insight and passion that is unusual for scholarly writer; David Bade’s translation does justice to both of these aspects of the book. Read these two introductions to get a sense of what the book is about.
I was in Cambridge, MA last weekend for MiT7: unstable platforms: the promise and peril of transition. This conference is put on every two years jointly by MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program and the MIT Communication Forum.
The conference is concerned with new media and new communication technologies and their broad implications. Presenters came to the conference with a multitude of disciplinary and methodological perspectives, but most are working in communications, media studies, or digital humanities. There were a number of librarians and archivists present (and presenting), but not everyone who spoke about libraries or archives had a library or archival studies background, which was refreshing and interesting.
The first of four plenary sessions in an auditorium started the conference, and it featured Joshua Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard; Kathleen Fitzpatrick of Pomona College (with a book coming out soon on scholarly communication); Mark Leccese, a former journalist now teaching at Emerson College; and Klaus Peter Muller, of Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany. These four addressed questions on the fate of narrative and the shape of the public sphere in the new media environment, and were asked to give visions for the future. The introduction of the subject of narrative at the start of the conference was very interesting; at all of the sessions I attended, people drew ties between what was being discussed and questions of narrative and narrativity. I guess it must be common to talk about narrative among scholars who regularly attend MLA, but I think it is really great to introduce or invoke ideas about narrative in a setting that has a lot of social scientists as well. To me it seems that there is a lot still to be gained from studying narrative (or narrative theory or narratology) and its role outside of the usual literary contexts where it is talked about (film, literature, etc.).
Regarding narrative, the discussion seemed to show that the public at large is more aware of narrative structures in the media they consume than they possibly were in the past, as a result of the participatory online culture, fan culture, etcetera. Joshua Benton noted that “ancillary objects” surrounding news stories (i.e. links and commentary) affect the narrative by providing additional perspectives (alternate narratives) and additional entry and exit points. This makes it seem possible (to me) that people could be growing sharper about how narratives are used to manipulate them and might be becoming empowered by an enhanced ability to see through manipulative narratives (political, commercial, etc.). There doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence for this that I can see though, considering how the masses (forgive me for using the term straightforwardly) continue to be moved by narratives that arise out of the facts but don’t do them justice. As refreshing as it was to me to find questions of narrative addressed throughout the conference, I would have been happier to see connections drawn between narratives and narrativity and social influence and control. That these connections weren’t drawn probably has to do with the fact that narrative is mostly a topic of discussion in the humanities rather than in the social sciences. (Please comment if you have something to suggest in this connection.)
There were two sessions following the opening plenary session on the first day. In the first I heard papers on the media and the Space Race of the 1960s, the 19th century telegraph system as a new communications medium, 19th century fan fic, and late 19th century American literature evidencing responses to media shift. In the second I heard papers on a discourse analysis of internet RFC’s to look for the history of information policies (Sandra Braman); Bill Gates’ “Open Letter to Hobbyists”; and the influence of the Interop conferences on the development of the internet. These two sessions were not the only ones where the point was made that “it was ever thus” or “this is not the first time” that we have been anxious and excited about the impact of new media technologies. I particularly like the insights that can be derived from historical studies such as these, and I began speaking with a couple of presenters about a possible series for Litwin Books in this area.
The conference went on to have three more plenary sessions and five more call sessions, in which I attended panels called Reading and Writing; Legal and Social Links; Classrooms and Libraries in Transition; Capital, Time and Media Bias; and Publishing in Transition. Highlights were talks by librarian Margaret Heller and her collaborator Nell Taylor, Paul van den Hoven, Bob Hanke, Paulina Mickiewicz, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and Karen Hellekson.
Margaret Heller and Nell Taylor talked about an interesting, informal community-based library project that is building a collection of locally-published materials representing the diverse communities of Chicago and putting the catalog online in a social-media-rich way. It seems to be a very successful project, which, frankly, is unusual for things that are that innovative.
Paul van den Hoven does media studies of the legal system in Holland, and talked about the way the expanding, democratized media environment has outstripped the judicial system’s ability to handle the proliferation of narratives surrounding cases that have a public nature. His discussion helped me focus my own thinking about the current trend toward democratization of media and the de-authorization of institutions, in the sense that in the context of the law it is clear, to me anyway, how top-down institutions can protect people from the consequences of an irrational, narrative-driven public. Sandra Braman could certainly explain to me why my sense of security in feeling protected by the judicial system is a false one; nevertheless, there is still more to be said than we usually hear, it seems to me, about the dangers of de-authorizing institutions and empowering the masses (again, apologies for using the term in a straightforward manner).
Bob Hanke read a difficult paper (that he was kind enough to send me so that I could study it) addressing the technologization of the university and the changes that have emerged through the process. His paper was political, and addressed “media effects” (a term he avoided) of technology from a Canadian, media-studies point of view, but incorporating a political-economic structural viewpoint as well. Now having read his paper I am afraid to say I still find it difficult to understand in parts; but perhaps I just need to read some of the people he is citing.
Paulina Mickiewicz read a very interesting paper (with slides) about a major work of public architecture and its connection to the media environment: the Grande Bibliothèque du Québec. Mickiewicz’s background is in media studies, and her reading has so far not included much from the library literature. Her focus is on the architect’s thinking in designing the building, and how architectural decisions in building this and other innovative libraries define, or at least aim to define, the meaning of the library as an information place for the community. I will be interested to see her work as it progresses.
Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Karen Hellekson both gave papers in the Publishing in Transition session, and both were fascinating and informative, on the subjects of trade book publishing and scholarly journal publishing respectively.
It was a very good conference. In addition to the people mentioned above, I felt fortunate to hear papers and comments by William Uricchio, Kelley Kreitz, Heidi Gautschi, Andrew Feldstein, Julia Noordegraaf, and Goran Bolin.
Finally, I want to give a shout-out to a couple of librarians from MIT libraries who were present: Patsy Baudoin and Marlene Manoff. I look forward to seeing them again in 2013 if not sooner.
MiT7 was a great conference – intimate, warm, stimulating, interdisciplinary, and cutting-edge. There were some brilliant minds at work. I plan to post a few comments on the conference later. For now, here are links to podcasts from the three topical plenary sessions:
Media in Transition 7 (MiT 7), a small conference at MIT, is starting Friday and running ’till Sunday. I will be there; if you will be there too please say hello.
Anyone wanting to follow the Twitter hash tag can look for #mit7.
Philippe Breton: a brief introduction
…by David Bade, the translator of Breton’s book Le culte de l’Internet: Une menace pour le lien social?, which Litwin Books has published under the English title: The Culture of the Internet and the Internet as Cult: Social Fears and Religious Fantasies…
I discovered the work of Philippe Breton when Le cult de l’Internet: une menace pour le lien social? arrived in the library in 2000. I read it and immediately ordered everything he had published. I regularly check to see if he has published anything new, and I have his latest book on order at the Seminary Coop Bookstore now: Le silence et la parole: contre les excès de la communication (written in collaboration with David Le Breton). Breton’s first book, for which he received the Prix de jury from the Association française des informaticiens in 1988, was Une histoire de l’informatique, published in 1987. That book was reviewed (along with two other titles on the topic) by I. Bernard Cohen in the journal Technology and Culture in 1990 ; Cohen had little to say about it and nothing good. His complaint? Breton’s history was not the history he had expected, as it dealt not with the details of technical innovations but with the social, political and ideological views of the men who made the field and the ethical aspects of their worldview. Cohen recognized that Breton was writing as a philosopher rather than an historian of engineering and he wanted nothing to do with philosophy.
Since his history of informatics Breton has written a series of remarkable books on communication and information technologies, language, rhetoric, argumentation and the interplay among language, technology and ideology in our time. His thinking from the beginning has joined together the philosophy of information science, the anthropology of language, technologies of communication, and the practices of rhetoric, argumentation and political communication. His books have been translated into Arabic, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish and Vietnamese, but until now, not into English. In 1991 his anthropological study of the early users of computers, La tribu informatique, received the grand prize for literature in information science, and in 1998 La parole manipulée was awarded the prize for moral and political philosophy of the Académie française des sciences morale et politiques. I will never forget reading his À l’image de l’Homme: du golem aux créatures virtuelles (1996): his concluding analysis of the history of projects for making artificial life and the ideas about what a human being is that has informed them left me in a state of shock. His monographs on rhetoric and argumentation made me realize the enormous significance of the absence of argument and debate in a technical system based on rules, algorithms and instructions, for here we enter directly into the political realm. Within information science language is understood to be nothing but information, bits, packets, stuff to send and receive, while the human reality is that language is argument and debate, understanding and misunderstanding, desire and domination. These contrasting visions of communication and language in human social life constitute a crucially important area for research that has hardly been investigated.
In Le cult de l’Internet: une menace pour le lien social? Breton looks at the Internet not as a technical system but as a human project, born of social fears and utopian dreams, of mystical desires, religious fantasies, political demands and economic ideologies. How this Internet of the imagination has altered the social reality in which we now live Breton examines through the lens of his earlier works: his analysis of the history of ideas in information science, his anthropological description of computer users and their relationship to their computers, and his remarkable insights into our species’ imagination of what it is to be human.
It has puzzled me for a decade now that no notice was taken of this book in the anglo-american world of library and information science; only one English language periodical published a review. The only other reviews of his books in an English language periodical were the above mentioned review of Une histoire de l’informatique and a review of L’explosion de la communication in Canadian Journal of Communication. Even though a decade old, Le culte de l’Internet has lost none of its relevance and I am delighted that Litwin Books is publishing this translation. I hope there will be more to come.
— David Bade
Books by Philippe Breton (arranged chronologically)
Une histoire de l’informatique. Paris: La Découverte, 1987. (reprinted : Seuil, coll. « Points sciences », Paris, 1990)
Les technosciences en question: éléments pour une archéologie du XXe siècle (with Frank Tinland and Alain-Marc Rieu). Paris: Champ Vallon, Seyssel, 1989.
L’explosion de la communication. La naissance d’une nouvelle idéologie (with Serge Proulx). Paris & Montréal: La Découverte & Boréal, 1989. (reprinted: La Découverte/poche, Paris, 1996. Revised edition published in 2002 as: L’explosion de la communication à l’aube du XXIe siècle)
La Tribu informatique. Paris : Métaillié, 1990.
L’utopie de la communication. Paris : La Découverte, 1990. (reprinted: La Découverte/poche, Paris, 1997, 2004).
L’option informatique au lycée (with Éric Heilmann and Guislaine Dufour). Paris: Hachette, 1990 (reprinted 1991 and 1998).
Pour comprendre l’informatique (with Ghislaine Dufourd, Eric Heilmann). Paris: Hachette, 1992.
À l’image de l’homme. Du Golem aux créatures virtuelles. Paris: Seuil, 1995 (coll. « Science ouverte »).
L’argumentation dans la communication. Paris: La Découverte, 1996 (coll. « Repères »).
La parole manipulée. Paris : La Découverte, 1998 (reprinted: La Découverte/Poches, Paris, 1999, 2004).
Histoire des théories de l’argumentation (en collaboration avec Gilles Gauthier). Paris : La Découverte, 2000 (coll. « Repères »).
Le culte de l’Internet: une menace pour le lien social? Paris: La Découverte, 2000.
Éloge de la parole. Paris: La Découverte, 2003.
Argumenter en situation difficile. Paris: La Découverte, 2004.
L’incompétence démocratique: la crise de la parole au cœur du malaise (dans la) politique. Paris: La Découverte, 2006.
Convaincre sans manipuler – Apprendre à argumenter. Paris: La Découverte, 2008.
Les refusants: comment refuse-t-on de devenir exécuteur. Paris: La Découverte, 2009.
Le silence et la parole contre les excès de la communication (with David Le Breton). Toulouse: Érès, 2009.
Breton’s blog on Le Monde: http://argumentation.blog.lemonde.fr
New book: The Culture of the Internet and the Internet as Cult: Social Fears and Religious Fantasies
Author: Philippe Breton
Translator: David Bade
Published: March 2011
Printed on acid-free paper
French author Philippe Breton examines the Internet and the culture surrounding it through the lens of its philosophical and cultural background. Central in his insightful analysis of “the Internet as cult” are Teilhard de Chardin and the New Age, but he looks also at the fears, passions and pathologies of Alan Turing and Norbert Wiener, the imagined worlds of Isaac Asimov, William Gibson, J.G. Ballard and Timothy Leary, the prognostications and confessions of Bill Gates, Nicolas Negroponte and Bill Joy, and the philosophies of Saint-Simon, McLuhan and Pierre Lévy. Breton contrasts the dreams of a transparent and unmediated world, a world in which neither time nor space are relevant, a world without violence, without law, without a distinction between the public and the private, with the reality of propaganda, computer viruses and surveillance; the world in which “sociality in the sense of mutuality disappears in favor of interactivity,” where “experience with another and with the world in general is replaced by brief reactionary relations that hardly engage us at all.” This English language translation is by David Bade.
When the book was first published in France as Le culte de l’Internet: une menace pour le lien social?, the publishers described the book with these remarks on its cover [translation by David Bade]:
For the first time in the history of humanity human beings have created a technical system—the Internet—that allows us to dispense with all face-to-face communication. No one would have considered such a possibility if the Internet had not been the object of a cult offering the promise of a better world, the world of “cyberspace”. The advocates of “the Internet for everything” seem to have carried the day not only against technophobes but more importantly against all those desirous of a reasoned use of new technologies.
These militant fundamentalists call for a global information society in which social relationships will be founded upon a separation of bodies and a collectivization of consciousnesses. Their vision is one that mixes together the heritage of Teilhard de Chardin, Zen Buddhism and New Age philosophies. It is a vision that mobilizes American cultural values such as Puritanism, manicheism, the quest for social harmony and the cult of the young. It is rooted in a religiosity that celebrates the utopia of transparence in the context of a political crisis and the waning influence of monotheism and humanism.
Technical developments since 2000 have brought many new imaginations and practices, but Breton’s description of the imaginations that have surrounded the development of the Internet remains a superb corrective to the commonplace that technological developments are changing our world. The reader of The Cultural Origins of the Internet and the Internet as Cult will come away with an awareness of how our own imaginations, our fears and our fantasies form and fashion our futures, technological, social and otherwise.
Litwin Books will soon be publishing an English translation of Philippe Breton’s 2000 book, Le culte de l’Internet: Une menace pour le lien social?, under the English title: The Culture of the Internet and the Internet as Cult: Social Fears and Religious Fantasies. Here is a bit from Chapter Four that comes to mind for me in relation to the Wikileaks discussion:
In the world of the new information technologies, the theme of “transparence” frequently returns under forms more or less vulgarized. Transparence is at work from the beginning: computers, then the networks, the new magic wands, are supposed to make transparent whatever they touch. One often hears it said, for example, that informatics and now the networks are capable of “making government transparent.” For a long time the same thing has been said in reference to business. The Internet thus presents itself as a tool enabling the struggle against “opacity,” the key anti-value of that universe.
That value has also erupted in the world of politics. Thus, the Prime Minister of France, Lionel Jospin, at the inauguration of the 19th Summer University of Communications on the 25th of August 1998 declared that “the entry of our country into the information society” corresponded to “more access to knowledge and culture, more employment and growth, more public service and transparence, more democracy and liberty.” Here transparency is put on the same level as these other values judged to be fundamental. Transparence is an ideal that serves to exalt, but also, above all, to exclude: what is transparent is, by nature, more evolved, more advanced. “Power,” because it is assumed to be the retention of information, is on the side of the dark and the old. “Cooperation,” a notion even much more abstract, is on the side of light. “Start-ups” are presented as models of non-hierarchical societies where everything is transparent in every respect. On the side of power, law is more and more presented as an obstacle to putting in place a global information society. In cyberspace, one hears repeated in unison that there is no need for law, least of all national or international laws.
In order to carry out their mission, which is to support the light, information systems themselves must be transparent. From this perspective, all desire to separate systems, to protect them from “external intrusion,” is therefore considered antinomian. A good system should be open, transparent. The new religiosity is profoundly antagonistic to the constraints and necessities of what the professionals call “information security,” which is simply a variation of the security of goods and persons.
As one can see from some of the examples cited, the pursuit of an ideal of transparence implies the negative equalification of everything which is secret, of the hidden, the private, the intimate, the profound, the non-visible. The actual annihilation of the “non-visible,” deemed opaque, cannot help but be an attack on barriers, frontiers, on all separations which impede the flow of information, the “generalized interconnection” and the final transparence of the world.
Many of these barriers would be particularly valuable to target and become the object of a will to subversion, as for example, to take the most important of these, that which separates public from private life, law and juridical norms, all the norms which would impede the “free circulation” of information on the network, and finally, last but not least, the embodiment of speech as an obstacle to free communication. The ideal of transparence above all takes the form of a war against opacity and obscurity. The new religiosity takes us into a new time through a binary vision of the world. On the one side, information, openness, light; on the other, closure, entropy, disorder, Evil. In one case, a “solar” mode (the planet described by Asimov was aptly named “Solaria”), in the other, shadows.
The struggle against shadows is a real fight, step by step, even if the participants do not always discern the scope and the stakes of the battle. Some are often more concerned with the abolition of the “insupportable frontiers” between the private and the public, others more motivated by the desire to make a leap over all the barriers to access to different parts of the great information network, while, finally, still others are particularly indignant at the restraints to the free circulation of ideas which are national laws, the institution of the rights of the author, or, in another area, the presence of numerous middle-men (teachers, businesspeople, journalists) who “interpose” themselves between producers and consumers.
Watch for this book this Spring.
MiT7 unstable platforms: the promise and peril of transition
CALL FOR PAPERS
Submissions accepted on a rolling basis until Friday, March 4, 2011.
Conference dates: May 13-15, 2011 at MIT.
Conference website: web.mit.edu/comm-forum/mit7/
Has the digital age confirmed and exponentially increased the cultural instability and creative destruction that are often said to define advanced capitalism? Does living in a digital age mean we may live and die in what the novelist Thomas Pynchon has called “a ceaseless spectacle of transition”? The nearly limitless range of design options and communication choices available now and in the future is both exhilarating and challenging, inciting innovation and creativity but also false starts, incompatible systems, planned obsolescence.
For this seventh Media in Transition conference we want to focus directly on our core topic – the experience of transition. Our first conference in 1999 considered this subject, of course. But that was before Facebook, iPhones, BitTorrent, IPTV and many other changes.
How are we coping with the instability of platforms? How are the classroom, the newsroom, the corporate office exploiting digital systems and responding to the imperative for constant upgrades. Our libraries and archives? Our public entertainments? Are new technologies changing the experience of reading? The experience of watching movies or television programs? How stable, how durable are current or emerging systems? How relevant are earlier periods of media change to our current experience of ongoing instability and transformation?
We welcome submissions from scholars and teachers in all fields as well as media-makers, producers, designers and industry professionals.
Possible topics include:
- Technologies of reading
- The future and fate of media studies
- Narrative across media
- Analog media in the connected era
- Emerging forms of journalism and community engagement
- New questions, new paradigms for media history
- Reappraising divides, digital, generational, and gendered
- Television: a medium of constant change?
- Rethinking access and restriction in the digital age
- The migration of print culture to digital form: promises and problems
- Oral cultures and digital cultures
- The advent of the book
- Corporate strategies for the digital age
Short abstracts of about 250 words for papers or panels can be sent via email to email@example.com no later than Friday, March 4, 2011.
While emailed submissions are preferred, abstracts can be snail-mailed to:
77 Mass. Ave.
Cambridge , MA 02139
Please include a short (75 words or less) biographical statement.
We invite submissions of full papers and proposals of full panels. Panel proposals should include a panel title and one-sentence description of the panel as well as separate abstracts and bios for each panel speaker.
Anyone submitting panel proposals should take it on themselves to identify and recruit a moderator.
Our expectation is that speakers will submit full versions of their presentations before the conference begins so that all conferees will have a chance to preview the materials.
We will be evaluating submissions on a rolling basis. The final deadline for submission will be Friday, March 4, 2011.
Media in Transition conferences are free and open to the public. A registration link will be added to the conference site.
From Philippe Breton’s The Culture of the Internet and the Internet as Cult: Social Fears and Religious Fantasies, forthcoming from Litwin Books:
One may distinguish three positions grosso modo: first the “Internet-for-everything” militants, proselytes (sometimes unknowingly) of a new cult. Then there are the technophobes, hostile to all technology. Finally, there are those who think that a rational use of technology may under certain conditions be a factor of progress. Those who take the first attitude appear to be the majority, and their point of view tends to become the “dominant ideology” in this area, the only possible and legitimate manner of regarding the question, to the point that they often cannot even imagine that there could be any other. Those with the second attitude are more numerous than they appear. Through philosophy, ignorance or simply irritation, with a sort of passive resistance, underground but effective, they oppose the diffusion of the new information technologies. The third position, held by those who tend to take a measured view of technology, is still largely undeveloped. Such a position is often formed of multiple experiences that are difficult to unify. It rests on humanist values that are difficult to affirm, and of which some are today in crisis.
Library Juice Press and Litwin Books now have “publisher pages” on LibraryThing (the links go there). There are links to the books, tags, reviews, and (soon) links to LibraryThing users who own our books. Check it out if you are a LibraryThing user…
The introduction to Adam Klein’s A Space for Hate: The White Power Movement’s Adaptation Into Cyberspace is now online.